Pointing to the small patch of yellow containing an anachronistic lion, the symbol of a royal house long dethroned on the rear of the car facing hers, she admitted, "I like your bumper sticker."
"You've been to Scotland, then?" he asked, contemplating the ash blond locks and rounded facial features.
"Yes, just once. My grandmother came from Prestwick."
"Ah, yes," he agreed, thinking of the seaside burg with it's crowded main street and the viaduct that led to the historic links. "A beautiful town." She began to fumble with the pump. "Here, let me help you with that," and he unscrewed the gas tank and inserted the nozzle full into the opening.
As the tank was being filled they continued their chat. "Where did your grandmother live?"
"Right in town. I actually saw her house."
"Where was it?"
"Oh, yes, just up from the pub that sells Guiness."
"My goodness, how do you know it?"
"Oh, I've taken a few golfing trips over, and Prestwick is prime territory, you know. I've always thought an Irish pub in Scotland was a bit of a travesty."
She giggled, he thought it a sweet sound. As the gasoline meter spun, she explained a bit more about the circumstances of how she'd found the house, how no one had remembered her grandmother, but someone remembered her aunt Elspath, who'd only emigrated after World War II, and then directed her to the doorstep. She'd been, she explained, too timid to knock on the door, but she happened upon a genealogy society in the village and made some friends she still kept in touch with.
The pump clicked off, and he replaced the nozzle in the holster and replaced the cap. "It was nice talking to you," she admitted, "and if I didn't have a conference call I have to be on, we could talk for hours. But thanks for the help."
"It's no trouble," he shyly grinned. "My name's Ryan."
"I'm Paula." She slid into the seat of her sedan, while he walked forward to complete the filling of his own car. Suddenly, he wheeled, returned to the side of her vehicle.
"Listen," he said as she slid the window down, "I'd really like to talk to you some more about Scotland. Why don't you take my number and we can have lunch some time?"
"Okay," she agreed, a little non-commitingly, "but I'm not sure my husband would approve." Still, she took the number down.
"I don't see why not, he'd be welcome, too."
He watched her as she pulled her car out onto the main road.
Three days later, Ryan received the phone call, a bit surprised; he really hadn't expected her to call. "I've been thinking," she said, "and I'd love to have lunch with you. I'm free on Saturday, if you can get away."
"Not a problem," he concurred, and they decided upon a Chili's in a mall a few miles from the gas station they'd met. "Bring your pictures, I'd love to see them."
At 11:45, she was waiting for him as he stepped into the vestibule. They shook hands warmly, Paula didn't seem to want to release the grip as she peered into his eyes. She carried a computer bag, they were led to a booth barely large enough for four in the middle of the restaurant, sat opposite each other. "It's so nice to see you again," he giddily admitted.
"Me too." She looked around the grill, seeing if anyone she knew might be there. "I feel a little guilty, I've never done anything like this before."
"Like what? Met a friend for lunch?"
"You know what I mean. You're a man, I'm a woman, people could misconstrue."
"Let them," he urged. "It's a public place, and we're simply going to look at photographs." The barmaid came, asked if they'd like drinks. "Please," he ordered, "I'd like a rob roy. I got the taste for them in Edinburgh." He pronounced it in the Scottish manner, Edinburra.
"I'll have a diet," she said, which gained a raised eyebrow from Ryan. "Well, all right, I guess I'll have a glass of white wine."
"That's better. So, tell me, how many times have you been to the homeland?"
"Just the once, four years ago. Hugh and I were there for two weeks. It was the first time we'd ever been out of the country, a gift to ourselves when we got our last boy out of college and also an early trip to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary."
"Thirty years! That couldn't be. He's a very lucky man." This caused her to blush. "Lori and I just passed our twenty-first."
"And she doesn't mind you're here?"
"Well, I told her I was going to Lowe's, and that I might get a haircut. She's working today, anyway, there's no problem. So show me!"
She got her laptop out of the bag, placed it on the table between them, began the slideshow, but because of the odd angle it was difficult for both to see them simultaneously. "Would you mind if I sat beside you?" he requested.
"No, I suppose not." The tone was guarded, reticent. But she moved over on the bench, as far as possible, and together they sat, gazing at scenes of the lowlands and highlands. Salads were delivered, through the munching they continued the travelogue. When the waitress asked if they would like another round, Paula said, "Oh, I shouldn't . . . but okay." The restaurant was only half full, so neither felt guilty about staying in the booth while they chatted of Ayrshire and the Dumfries and the Grampians. Finally, the photographs - there must have been several hundred - were exhausted, and the drinks were as well. Along the way, the couple had shared their experiences, begun to view each other with warmth.
Then, Ryan ordered another drink, Paula decided water would be just fine. Since there was no need for them to sit alongside each other, Ryan moved back over to 'his' side of the booth when he returned from the restroom. "So, tell me," he pumped, "how did Paula get to be Paula?"
She was startled by the question. "What do you mean?"
"You must have come from somewhere. Had a childhood, went to school. I know you have children. Tell me."
"My goodness. Well, I grew up in a small town in the northern part of the state . . ." As she told her life story, Ryan listened studiously. Paula was taken aback with the attention, it had been so long since anyone - particularly a man - had taken notice of her. He asked questions at the right times, making sure he had the names of her three children correctly. When she ran out of things at the tip of her mind, he asked for a detail, summoning an anecdote.
Ryan looked at his watch, gasped, "Oh, look at the time. I've got to be going! I'd love to stay longer . . ." He helped her on with her coat, another courtesy she wasn't accustomed to, and escorted her to her SUV. "My, that's a large car for such a wee woman!"
"I know. I'd rather have a compact, but Hugh wants the status of a big expensive car." Her statement was accompanied by a rancorous mien. He opened the door for her, and she gave him a restrained hug, one meant for a friend, nothing more.
"I tremendously enjoyed this," Ryan said, "do you think we could get together again?"
"I liked it too, I don't see why not."
"I'll call you then." He watched her drive off.
That night, as she put the roast and mashed potatoes in front of her husband and they watched a sitcom together, she thought of how Ryan had seemed to care about her.
Two days later, in the rush of the afternoon traffic, her cell phone rang. "Hi, am I catching you at a bad time?" he queried.
"No, I'm just driving home from work."
"Good. How was your day?"
"Rotten. One of the guys got a little uptight, blamed me for a mistake he made."
"That's too bad. Did you call him on it?"
"No, I'm miss goody-two-shoes when it comes to that. I should have stood up for myself."
"Yes, you should have," he agreed.
"How was your day?" she asked in response.
"Not bad. It would have been better if you had been around."
"Oh, that's sweet."
"So, when can we get together again? I felt so alive after our lunch!"
"Well, I don't know . . ."
"Maybe we could have drinks after work?"
Paula thought, would this be right? Should I encourage him? After all, we're both married . . . After perhaps ten seconds of silence, he continued, "What about Wednesday night? At Chili's?"
She surprised herself by responding, "All right." After all, it was only drinks, wasn't it? It wasn't like she was committing adultery, after all, not like . . .
Over coffee Wednesday morning, she told her husband a little white lie. "We're backed up, and I might have to work late. There's some left over pasta in the fridge." Hugh just grunted, hardly looking up.
Ryan was waiting for her in a booth. "You look wonderful," he complimented.
"Oh, come now." She knew she didn't look anything of the sort, she was much to plump to be 'wonderful,' she was harried after the day's work and she'd barely had time to freshen up her lipstick and comb her hair during the drive. But it was nice of him to think so.
She ordered a wine, he had a glass of his own in front of him, and they looked over the appetizer menu. "Is there something you'd like?"
"What are pot-stickers? They look interesting."
"We have to have them, then," he agreed.
The talk that night was of families. How she'd loved her mother deeply, only to have her pass away of a brain tumor while she was in her senior year of high school, and how sad Paula had been not to have her at the wedding. Her father had married three years later to a woman she didn't see eye to eye with, but he seemed to love her deeply for the last twenty years of his life.
She found out, when she inquired, that Ryan and his wife only had one daughter, now married and living out of state, and that his wife was a real estate agent who spent most weekends and many evenings out on sales calls. "That must be terrible," Paula explained.
"I don't know," he rejoined. "At least it keeps down the bickering. We don't really have much in common anymore, I guess."
"Yes, I feel that way sometimes."
"Really!? You seem so happy."
"Well . . . I guess I'm not unhappy. Hugh's a wonderful man. It's just that he's so predictable. I just wish . . ." A pause descended.
"What do you wish?"
"I just wish some of the old passion was there, that's all. When we were first married, you couldn't separate us. The first time he went out of town on business, I cried my heart out."
"You were in lust," he observed.
"Lust. When we're first in love, you're in lust, too. Can't keep him out of your mind, can't wait to get your hands on him. The sex is incredible. Oh, you're in love at the same time, but then the lust goes away."
"Yes, that's it.
"How long has it been, since you were last in lust?"
"I guess it went away when our first was born. Oh, don't get me wrong, it's nice to be in bed with him. But it just isn't the same."
"He doesn't push the right buttons?"
"Maybe. Or maybe he just knows the buttons too well. You know, insert tab A into slot B . . ." She was amazed she was telling Ryan this, she'd never admitted it, except to a few girlfriends. Yes, that was it. She felt safe with Ryan, as if he were a 'girlfriend.' No, that wasn't quite right, she was attracted to him, but he wasn't out to get into her panties or anything. Suddenly, she knew more than a minute had passed without a single word being spoken. "How about you?"
"How about you? How long has it been since you were in lust?"
"Oh, about the same. The night I met Rosemary in a bar, we knew right then that we wanted each other. She invited me to her apartment, and we tore into each other. We both called off work the next day and stayed in bed. Six months later we were married, and then the bills started coming in, and, well, like you say, it's still nice and all, but . . ."
"Yes, but," she agreed. They silently agreed that the subject was getting just a bit too intimate, changed the topic. Fifteen minutes later, she made an excuse, he again escorted her to the car, opened the door for her.
"Listen, perhaps I shouldn't say this, but . . ." he seemed to stammer a bit, "well, I'm really enjoying your company. You're very special. I just wanted you to know that."
She was taken aback, since she wanted to say the same thing. "I know." They hugged, closely, intimately, and they might have kissed, but they both knew it just wasn't right. "Let's get together again. Soon."
"Yes. Rosemary's got open houses on both Saturday and Sunday if you can get away."
"I don't know. Let me think about it." And then, he leaned through the open window, and their lips met, softly and briefly.
On the drive home, she determined to reflame her relationship with Hugh, and when she arrived to find him in his den playing a game on the computer, she kissed him passionately. "What's that for?" he demanded.
"Nothing. I've just been thinking how much I love you. Why don't you come upstairs?"
"Sure, just let me finish this. I'll be up in awhile."
She climbed the stairs to their bedroom, changed into a nightgown, lit a candle, got into bed and waited. Twenty minutes later he was still absent and she called down, "Are you coming, honey?"
"Soon." When she drifted off, he still wasn't beside her.
The next evening, Paula and Hugh did make love, and although it was satisfying for her, the fireworks consisted only of low-grade cherry bombs. As they laid together afterwards, she made a suggestion. "I was thinking, maybe, of going over to Amish country and getting a room in a bed and breakfast. Something romantic."
"Why?" he responded, nearly cynical.
"I just want to spend some time with you, that's all."
"We spend enough time together. Besides, I'm pretty busy at work right now. Maybe in a month or two."
"Yes," she agreed, "maybe then. Oh, and I was wondering. I'd like to get a new sofa and chair for the living room, and I thought Sunday we could go to a furniture store."
"You've got to be kidding me," he flared. "we're playing the Jaguars! You go, tell me if you find anything you like."
"That's fine, dear," she smiled.
As soon as she was out of the house in the morning, she gave Ryan a call. "I can make it on Sunday."
"Wonderful. Listen, I don't mean to press, but how much time could you get? It's supposed to be warm and sunny, and I'd like to take you for a drive."
That night, "Honey, Rebecca wants to get together Sunday night for dinner, just us girls. Would that be all right?"
"What do I care?"
Twelve-thirty, the parking lot at Chili's. Paula rubbernecked the tract, just in case there was anyone she might know, and slid into the passenger seat of Ryan's coupe. As they slid onto the freeway, he grasped her hand, brought it up and kissed it.
"Where are we going?" she grinned.
"It's a surprise. Are you hungry?"
"I could eat, but I'm not famished."
"Good. We'll be at the restaurant in about an hour." Along the way, he introduced her to a singer/songwriter he'd come across, Al Stewart. The songs seemed harmonious, and though they had a historical background, they also were full of double entendres. "This one," he explained, "is about a girl he wanted, but never got."
The hour on the highway rolled quickly, and they pulled into the Bronze Bridge Inn where the hostess led them to a table in the corner, for Ryan had made a reservation. Under the hunting trophies, by a window overlooking a running creek, they sipped fuzzy navels, dined on roast game, allowed their feet to touch while they chatted of nothing, yet everything. She explained how she was fascinated by the period of Louis XIV, he agreed that the Sun King had a certain panache that could never be recreated. Stuffed with sustenance, he continued northward on country roads, and twenty minutes later they found themselves on a lane hard by a lake.
"This is beautiful," she remarked. The air was warm, the sky cloudless, the trees adorned in reds, yellows and browns. At a turnout she would have never noticed, he parked, gathered a blanket from the trunk and led her through a thicket and down a gentle embankment to the shore where he spread the comforter. The water reflected the blue of the sky, a canoe crept on the lake, and they reclined to observe the serenity.
"Like it?" he asked.
"One of these days, I'm going to build a cottage here. Just three or four rooms, a getaway."
"You own this?"
"Bought it three years ago. Rosemary doesn't know, if she did she'd want to construct a castle, that is if she didn't want to sell it undeveloped and take the equity."
"It's wonderful. Weekends here would be so peaceful."
Gently, the couple crept together until they were clutching each other, their lips convening. Nothing untoward occurred, no movement by either to further the experience, just innocence. They'd break, spend fifteen minutes on an anecdote, then recongregate for harmless diversion.
On the drive home, they listened to more music without much talk. Paula smiled in her pleasure, thanked the heavens for the gift of this friend. That night as she dozed before entering the deepness of sleep, she was thunderstruck when she was visited by a phantasm of Ryan being beside her, naked, and they were making love. In the morning, she remembered the dream, unconcerned.
Seven weeks passed, additional meetings over lunches, cocktails, more drives on weekend afternoons. Worried that they'd be spied upon if they continued to meet in the Chili's parking lot, although everything they did was completely innocent, Ryan led her to a parking lot near a boat launch on the river, where they would hold hands, chat, and kiss. Eventually, Ryan's hand crept to her covered bosom. The first time, she failed to complain of the intrusion. The second time, she unbuttoned her blouse and let him feel her naked breast.
Hugh never accepted Paula's invitation to the bed and breakfast, and if he noticed that she was more passionate as he performed his husbandly duties, he gave no notice of it. And when she was linked with her husband, Paula allowed herself to pretend that it was not he, but another man, Ryan.
A gloomy sleet filled Saturday morning found Paula alone in her wedding bed. Hugh, she figured, had skulked downstairs, and was playing a game on his computer or surfing the Internet. She knew he visited porn sites. She thought of Ryan, and she let her hand slip between her legs. It wasn't the first time she'd masturbated, thinking how nice it would be to lie with the other man. In the warmth of her bed, she considered just how 'wrong' it would be, if she actually did something like that. Abruptly, she comprehended she didn't care! If this was immoral - the thought didn't feel that way - so be it.
She called Ryan on her cell phone. "Are you busy this afternoon?"
"No, Rosemary's got some clients."
"Meet me at the river? Twelve thirty? I've got a surprise for you."
"If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"
She cooked Hugh a lovely breakfast, they chatted of marital obligations - bills to pay, a visit to their children, repairs to the house. "I was thinking," she proposed, "of going downtown, getting some Christmas shopping done. You want to come along?"
"Hell, that's the last thing I want to do. You go ahead, though."
"You're sure you'll be fine?" Her voiced dripped with connubial concern.
"Yeah, you think I'll starve or something?"
"Well, I'll be home in time for dinner.”
"Have you ever been unfaithful?"
"No. Have you?"
"No," she admitted, "but I want to."
"You want to make love with me?" he challenged.
"It may be wrong, but yes. I don't care, I want you."
For a few seconds he meditated. During the delay she worried he would reject her, then he seemed to make up his mind. "Let's get a hotel room."
She entered his car, they drove to the first motel they could find. After Ryan gained the key, she led him to the room, and when the door was closed behind them, flowed into his arms. Words were suppressed, they concentrated on their needs. When Ryan first clutched a bare nipple, a jolt traveled through her body and prepared her for what was to happen to her, with her. And when his lip first touched her stud she was poised, and lighting seemed to flare through the room. She bucked and twisted in her passion, but didn't retreat from the experience; no, she encouraged him, shouted for him to drive her further into entrancement. And when he pressed his magic staff at the access to her moistness, she unfurled her limbs and invited infiltration. More expertly than she imagined possible, he directed her into various positions, and nerve endings she'd forgotten about were kneaded. She came! And came! And came!
When during a particularly difficult pose they accidentally disengaged, she wondered how many times she'd orgasmed. More than in the last year, certainly. And this man, this beautiful man, had been so wonderful, so patient with her. "You haven't come yet, have you?"
"No, I wanted to satisfy you."
"It's time then." She reclined on her back, offered her innermost part as a throne for him. And he raised above her, mounted her, thrust into her succulence. "Come on, baby," she whispered, "come to me. I want it." Ten times he plunged, twenty times. Deep into his eyes she stared, she felt locked cerebrally as much as in body. And suddenly she saw his eyelids droop, his pupils lose their focus, and she discerned the first drops of his juice infiltrating her. Her own body beckoned her once again towards detonation, she clamped her vaginal muscles as tight as possible, allowed her body to be used. Grunts, huge heavy gasps escaped his diaphragm, he plunged one last time, implanting his manhood into the maximum depth of her tunnel and arched his back. He seemed to float in the air above, rapt in the mysticism of his gratification. And she sensed her crevice being flooded with ounces of his nectar, and was gratified that he pleased himself in her.
He collapsed and she held him, heavy upon her, as they caught their breath. There was no speaking, just the weight above her, the smell of him in her nostrils, the bursting sensation in her womb. Gradually he shrunk, and regardless of how she undertook to contain him, he slipped out.
He rolled off her, flopped on his back. She turned to him, pressed her body to his. The time came to resume communications. "I haven't come that hard in years," she applauded, and was grateful when he turned to her and beamed.
He knew what she wanted to hear. She'd been okay, these chaste married ladies always were pretty decent in the sack the first time. He wondered how long she'd last; by Valentine's Day, he figured, it'd be over. Paula had a strong sense of contrition, perhaps this one wouldn't even last through Christmas. No matter, it was the chase he enjoyed, even more than the seizure. None of his conquests lasted more than a few months. In the end, Paula's guilt would engulf her, the sex would turn pathetic, he'd manipulate her to cut it off, think she was leaving him crying. Then, six months, a year, and some other guy would take advantage of her. That's just the way it was!
But that would be then, this was now. He knew what she wanted to hear, and he imparted it. "You were fantastic, I'm so lucky to have you," he lied.